KU baits Gators in OT, 82-80

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Well, no more looking ahead for the Kansas Jayhawks. The game none will admit to having circled on their schedules for quite sometime is here.

KU is still struggling to regain its preseason swagger after a stunning home upset at the hands of Oral Roberts nearly two weeks ago, and there'd be no better time for the young squad to do so than tonight in a 10 p.m. tipoff against top-ranked Florida - the defending national champion.

While KU struggled to a 64-46 win Friday night in the third round of the Las Vegas Invitational at Orleans Arena, the Gators cruised past Western Kentucky, 101-68, in the nightcap.

It's been that kind of year for Florida so far through six games - picking up right where it left off after last year's national championship game romp of UCLA. The Gators have won their first six contests by an average margin of 42.2 points per game.

Highlighting the effort so far has been six players averaging at least 8.3 points per game, and four in double figures. Junior forward Al Horford leads the team both in scoring (14.3) and rebounding (8.2), while fellow big man, junior Joakim Noah, is the reigning Final Four Most Outstanding Player. He's averaging 13.2 points per game, while junior swingman Corey Brewer averages 11.8 per and junior point guard averages 11.2 points per contest. He also leads the team with an average of four assists per game.

FIRST HALF

Florida's Al Horford started the game with a tough inside basket on a short turnaround, and KU responded quickly, with a three from the corner from Mario Chalmers. KU earned another possession off of a Brewer miss, and Julian Wright found Darrell Arthur inside to give KU the early 5-2 edge.

Brandon Rush kept the hot KU start going after Noah bricked a pair of ugly free throws. He took down a tough offensive rebound after Chalmers missed a three, and Julian Wright then hit a pull-up 17-foot jumper to give KU a 9-2 lead and force Billy Donovan to call and early timeout.

******

KU got its first negative of the game when Darrell Arthur was whistled for his second timeout quickly out of the timeout. It made Sasha Kaun's return from a knee injury that much more important, as he was entered into the game.

Wright made the post absence of Arthur moot by hitting an inside hook shot to put KU up 11-2.

Florida finally responded to KU's 11-0 run when Noah put down a stuff in traffic and drew a foul. The free throw made it an 11-5 game.

Corey Brewer followed a scramble on the heels of a Noah miss inside to make it 11-7, and on the other end, Wright ripped down a tough offensive board and drew a shooting foul, but will take the shots after the game's first television timeout.

******

Wright hit both free throws out of the game to bump his point total to six so far and give KU a 13-7 lead. After Florida missed another three, Chalmers took the ball with force down the lane and flipped it out to Robinson, who hit the Jayhawks' second three of the game to again make it a nine-point game.

Taurean Green's response was a floating baseline jumper to pull the Gators back to within seven. KU got some more tough news on Florida's next possession when Kaun earned his second foul. But Horford clanked both free throws, and Brandon Rush scored his second field goal of the game with a baseline two, again making it a nine-point game. Horford drew an offensive foul on the other end to keep KU's momentum building.

After Florida again squandered a chance to score, KU went to the paint on the other end, feeding Darnell Jackson off of a sweet inside spin move. He missed his shot but was hacked by Noah. He hit both free throws to put KU up 20-9 with just over 12 minutes to go in the first half.

Florida finally found an outside stroke thanks to its key marksman, Lee Humphrey. The senior hit a three with a hand in his face to put Florida back wtihin eight points. Darnell Jackson was whistled for over the back on the other end trying to pull down an offensive board, giving KU's forwards five fouls in the opening 8:29. KU leads 20-12 with 11:31 to go in the first half.

******

After a touchy foul called on Sherron Collins out of the timeout, Humphrey hit another jumper for Florida, but KU responded emphatically with a Julian Wright flush knifing down the lane.

Joakim Noah was not to be one-upped, screaming as he threw one home two-handed.

Wright kept the battle going, moving into double digits with a floater in the lane to put KU up 24-16.

Florida's response was first a pair of Humphrey free throws, giving him seven straight points for the Gators, and then a Taurean Green layup in transition off of an errant Darnell Jackson pass. Green got a free throw with it but couldn't connect, as KU held a 24-20 lead.

Wright scored his third straight field goal for the Jayhawks on a two-handed slam in which he ripped the rim forward. On the other end, Joakim Noah earned himself a trip to the bench, drawing his second foul of the game.

KU headed into yet another full timeout with the lead, staying ahead 26-20 with 7:52 to play in the first half.

******

KU got a couple of chances to score out of the timeout, but Rush misfired on a pair of baseline jumpers. Florida's Chris Richard scored on a tip-in off of a Horford miss on the opposite end, but Russell Robinson stormed back quickly for an acrobatic two points.

Rush then jumped a crosscourt pass defensively, dished it off, took the ball back and was fouled going to the rack with KU up 28-22. Rush missed both free throws, and KU's opportunity to expand the lead was squandered.

Florida jumped on the opening, with Taurean Green hitting a three on the opposite end.

KU drew another charging call on Florida - the third of the game - and on the other end, Darnell Jackson hit one of two free throws to push KU's lead to 29-25.

Another scramble under the KU basket wound up into yet another KU transition opportunity. And, another Julian Wright basket. The sophomore scored on a feed from Russell Robinson, giving him 14 points and KU a 31-25 lead with 3:59 left before halftime.

******

Wright followed another Rush miss by getting whacked under the basket, and he hit one of two free throws to put KU up seven points late in the half. KU hasn't tried too much to hammer the paint, with the trio of Brewer, Horford and Noah all on the bench with two fouls apiece.

Green remained the only Florida starter to play consistent ball from start to finish, and hit one of two free throws on a trip to the line thanks to the bonus.

Rush answered on the other end with his first slashing deuce of the night off of a Wright feed. Humphrey answered, though, with another contested three-pointer, giving him 10 points in the half.

Wright scored his 16th and 17th points on an arcing jumper. Green hit two free throws on the other end, leaving KU with the last possession in the half. Wright gave a no-look feed to Jackson underneath, who went up strong but was fouled, earning one last trip to the line before the break.

Jackson hit one of two free throws to send KU into the break up 37-31.

Julian Wright has 17 points and six rebounds for KU. After shooting 9-of-33 Friday night from the floor in the first half, KU was 14-of-29 in the first 20 minutes against the Gators. Taurean Green and Lee Humphrey each have 10 for the Gators, who have played much of the first half without Joakim Noah, Al Horford and Corey Brewer thanks to foul trouble.

SECOND HALF

Chalmers followed a Julian Wright defensive rebound with a layup after working the baseline to start off the second half. But Noah was able to come back with a tough inside two, only to be responded to with another easy Chalmers hoop, keeping KU's lead at eight points.

Florida was able to electrify its entire sideline on the next possession, as Horford threw home a two-handed dunk in traffic while being fouled. Though he missed the free throw. Horford grabbed a defensive board on the other end off of a Chalmers miss, and fed Taurean Green for two in transition to pull Florida within four points at 41-37.

Darrell Arthur, who had struggled offensively all night, made a major defensive contribution to scrap away a board from Horford, and force the Florida junior back to the bench with his third foul.

Corey Brewer scored his first points of the half on the other end, following a Taurean Green miss on a deep three-point attempt.

After that, the Gators tried to force some full-court pressure, but it backfired as KU broke it, leaving Arthur with an easy two-point stuff. Then Arthur was going up for another defensive board on the next possession, and continued to play the role of foul magnet, drawing an over the back on Noah, sending him to the bench as well with a trio of personal fouls.

******

KU kept the highlights coming on the next possession, working in transition off of a spin move to send yet another no-look feed, this time to Darrell Arthur, for an easy two points to put KU up 46-39.

Florida's Corey Brewer then hit two free throws to keep Florida within five points, and with Noah and Horford back in the game, they forced Darrell Arthur to step out of bounds on the baseline on the other end.

Taurean Green responded with a three-pointer to pull Florida back within two points. An off-ballance Rush shot on the other end gave Florida the ball back, and an Al Horford emphatic finish off of a Joakim Noah miss tied the game up with 12:27 to play, building the UF run to 7-0.

Brandon Rush came out of a full timeout by hitting a three-pointer in the corner to send the Jayhawks into the television timeout back on top with just under 12 minutes to go, 49-46.

******

KU tied the ball up in a loose ball scramble out of the timeout to get the ball back, and Mario Chalmers scored for the third time in the second half on the way back down with a floater in the lane from straight on, putting KU back up 51-46.

Taurean Green continued to be Florida's best offensive option, hitting a straight-on three to give him 18 points and again make it a two-point game.

Green then tied the game again off of a steal with a coasting open-court layin.

Chalmers again was the best answer with a deep three on the right wing, giving him 12 points and KU another slim advantage.

After a lull in scoring, Robinson again gave KU a boost off of a Joakim Noah turnover with a leaner from the right block to put KU up 56-51 with 7:52 to go.

******

Corey Brewer continued a solid night - when he's been on the floor and not in foul trouble - with a three in the corner out of the break.

KU's defensive pressure forced Al Horford to try and beat the shotclock with an awkward looking three-point attempt. The result was a huge outlet pass to Wright, who scored his first points of the second half on a high-flying slam at the other end, again putting KU up four.

Florida regained the lead for first time since being up 2-0 on a series of stellar plays. First, Noah backed in the KU postmen for two off the glass. Then, Taurean Green was given another easy two on a fastbreak after the ball was swiped easily from Brandon Rush going up for a layup. Florida grabbed the 60-58 lead with 3:10 to go.

******

Julian Wright scored his 20th and 21st points out of the timeout after Darrell Arther kept a miss alive with an offensive rebound. Joakim Noah responded inside, but Arthur did him one better in the paint on a pass from Wright, tying the game, 62-62.

Robinson hit a deep two which was initially called a three-pointer, and KU looked like it would have a chance to seal it with free throws when Brandon Rush boarded a badly missed Green three attempt. But Noah ripped the ball loose and stuffed it home two-handed style to tie the game, 64-64, with less than a minute left.

KU took the ball downcourt and worked it inside to Darrell Arthur, who drew Joakim Noah's fourth foul of the game while going up inside. He hit the first, and then Florida called a timeout to try and freeze him.

Didn't work.

Arthur hit the second free throw with 33.2 seconds to go.

Florida had a chance to hold for the last shot, but the first pass after crossing midcourt by Taurean Green was tipped and taken by Russell Robinson, subsequently began the foulfest.

Arthur was sent to the line after an inbounds pass from Brandon Rush. The first shot curled in after hitting the back of the rim. He calmly sank the second one to put KU up four points with 22.5 seconds to go.

A foul was whistled on Sasha Kaun, sending Horford to the line in the bonus. He hit both with 16.9 ticks to go, and Florida was then called for a grabbing call on Taurean Green, sending Russell Robinson to the line.

******

Robinson hit both free throws, and as Dick Vitale screamed over the airwaves that Kansas did not want to foul, the Jayhawks did just that as Brewer sank a layup on the baseline. He missed the free throw. Taurean Green missed a three off the rebound, but Joakim Noah's tip-in sent the game to overtime, tied 70-70.

OVERTIME

Al Horford scored the first point of overtime by hitting the front end of a two-shot opportunity.

Arthur responded on the other end after an offensive rebound, hitting a 15-foot jumper in the lane to put KU up 72-71.

Lee Humphrey re-welcomed himself to the contest offensively for the first time since the first half, hitting a three-pointer on the other end.

But Arthur again did him better.

Arthur scored a hoop-and-harm on the other end, but more importantly fouled Horford out of the game with 3:20 to go in the overtime. Arthur missed the free throw, leaving the game tied, 74-74.

Mario Chalmers followed a big Brandon Rush block on the other end by drawing a foul and hitting another one of two free throws, but Humphrey continued his big-moment theatrics with another three to put Florida up 77-75.

Humphrey then drew a huge offensive foul on Chalmers on the other end, giving Florida even more of an upper hand. KU took down a defensive rebound as Humphrey missed another three-point attempt, and called timeout with just over two minutes to go, still trailing 77-75.

******

Robinson came out of the timeout by finding Brandon Rush underneath for an inside layin to tie the game, 77-77.

Florida's outside touch didn't go away, as Green hit another three to give him 25 points and give Florida its biggest lead of the night at 80-77.

Darrell Arthur earned another turn at the foul line, only to hit another two, making it a one-point game again. On the defensive side, Julian Wright swooped in to grab a loose ball on the floor and signal a timeout, giving KU the ball back down one point with 40.8 seconds to play.

Rush scored off of a Chalmers drive out of the timeout to give KU another lead, 81-80, and Corey Brewer aired a jumper on the opposite end, giving the ball back to KU. Green fouled Robinson.

The junior guard finished his night by hitting one of two free throws. Off the miss, Brewer got a shot at an open three-pointer to win the game, but missed it short, and KU finished off the 82-80 win, beating a No. 1 ranked team for the first time since knocking off UMass in 1994.

Florida's Taurean Green led all scorers with 25 points, but KU had five players notch at least 12 points, led by Julian Wright's 21. Darrell Arthur had 19, Rush and Chalmers each scored 13 and Robinson finished with 12.

The 5-1 Jayhawks take on Dartmouth Tuesday night at 7 p.m. at Allen Fieldhouse.